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Breathless

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Holtzmann glares at the circuitry on the worktop in front of her. It’s just not working out, but she can’t leave it alone just yet. It’s been a long day and her colleagues have long since left to re-charge in their own ways: Abby and Patty have gone to a bar to celebrate their eventually successful bust earlier that evening; Erin, claiming a headache, went up to bed a while ago. Really, she should seek her own bed, but she knows that while it’s been a tiring day in some ways, she’s not tired enough yet for her body to overwhelm her mind and drag her down into sleep so bed now will just mean time to lie there and think, which she could do without, to be honest. She frowns down at the circuit board again. Maybe if she just adjusts right here…

She’s not sure how much later it is when she looks up from the pretty much completed proton pistol at the sound of a throat clearing. Normally, that wouldn’t be enough to penetrate her full on concentration on a project, but she’s become resigned to the fact that her brain appears to have assigned Erin the highest priority it has, enough to pull her focus from basically anything. She looks up, vaguely expecting that Erin will have come to ask her to keep it down, ready to apologise, and freezes.

Erin is standing in the doorway, lounging really, hip cocked against the door frame. Her hair hangs loose around her face and her chin is slightly down so that she is looking at Holtzmann through her eye-lashes. She is stark naked. It’s never really cold in Holtzmann’s lab – there’s too many different machines running, too much fissile material doing its thing – but it couldn’t really be described as warm, late night in May. Holtz swallows hard, trying not to fixate on Erin’s breasts, her pink, prominent nipples. “Erin?” she whispers, hoarsely, barely able to believe what she’s seeing.

Erin walks purposefully across the room, hips swinging. Undulates, Holtzmann’s reeling brain suggests. Sashays. She reaches out and grabs onto Holtz’s wrist as she circles the bench, inexorably pivoting Holtz with her until Holtz is backed up against the bench, Erin in front of her, and then Erin reaches up her other hand into Holtz’s hair and pulls her in for a kiss.

Holtz has always prided herself on her skills as a kisser. She has enjoyed the experience of kissing another woman breathless plenty of times. She’s not sure she can ever remember being on the other side of that equation. Erin attacks her with a single minded determination, her free hand leaving Holtz’s wrist to pluck at her shirt, pulling it loose from her trousers, undoing the buttons and pushing it to one side while her tongue twines and twists in Holtz’s mouth in a way that feels like a very vivid foretaste of what she might do with it elsewhere on Holtz’s body.

It’s so unlike what Holtz had imagined that being with Erin might be like. She’d imagined that Erin would be shy. Hesitant. Anxious. Careful, the way that she is over each of her equations, tracing each thread of the mathematics over and over, checking that everything is exactly where she wants it. It’s so very unexpected, it’s throwing her out, making her feel like the anxious one, unsure. She leans back against the pressure of Erin’s hand tangled in her hair, just needing some reassurance. “Erin?” she asks again, not even quite sure what the question is, looking into Erin’s eyes, imagining for a second they might show the blank, unfocused gaze of a sleep walker.

They don’t. Erin’s pupils are blown wide, but they’re focused, dark and determined, nearly drowning out the green glint of her irises. Robbed of Holtz’s mouth, she shifts her angle slightly, sucking a kiss into the hollow of Holtz’s neck, just above the chain of her pendant. Holtz can’t help letting out a moan, just on a breath, before the bottom drops out of her stomach as she realises what she’s seen. She’s spent enough time stealing glances while Erin was focused on other things to know. Erin’s eyes are not green, they’re blue.

She shoves Erin’s body away with all her strength, and, fortunately, Erin’s not braced for that so she stumbles away, into the space between the workbench and the door, giving time for Holtz to grab the proton pistol she’d been working on and aim it squarely at the other woman. “Get out of her,” she says, trying to sound firm.

“Are you sure?” Erin asks, and that explains why she hasn’t said anything up to this point, Holtz realises, because there’s a weird harmonic to it, almost but not quite inaudible, but fundamentally not just Erin’s voice. “You seemed to enjoy it.”

Holtz swallows hard. “I’m really sure. Out.”

“She wants it,” the ghost says with Erin’s mouth, wheedling, trying, Holtz thinks, for seductive but there’s no way that voice can be anything but terrifying. “She’s pining, wishing her chances away, burning for you but she’ll never say, without me.”

“Out. Now.” Holtz repeats, and her voice isn’t shaking but it’s a close run thing.

The ghost straightens and glares at Holtz. She’s never seen Erin look really furious, she realises. “You won’t shoot her. Not with that.” The voice shifts, from flat rage to taunting. “Maybe I should take her elsewhere. It’s cold out but I’m sure things would warm up for us.”

The ghost turns, as if to go, and Holtz is just making a frantic calculation about whether shooting at the door frame will create any sort of useful blockage when she hears the clattering and laughter from downstairs that heralds the return of the other two. Oh, thank fuck, she thinks and shouts “Guys, I could use a hand up here.”

She must sound pretty panicky because they don’t waste any time and in seconds any escape by the door is effectually blocked by Patty and Abby, who, having reached the scene of the action, stop dead, gaping. “What the hell!” Patty splutters.

“She’s possessed,” Holtz says, shortly, and moves slightly to better cover the windows. “Don’t let her out of the room.”

“Shit,” Abby says feelingly and braces herself in the doorway. Patty starts to move forward, looking ready to tackle Erin to the ground. The ghost in Erin’s body spins around, looking for another escape route but there really isn’t one. With a noise like the shriek of nails across a blackboard, Erin drops to the ground as something green and glowing soars out of her and Holtz’s fingers immediately tighten on the trigger of her pistol. It’s not finished, not really, and the proton stream surges unbuffered out of it, heating the metal in her hand to scorching point but she doesn’t let go and, in seconds, the ghost disintegrates in the unmodulated beam. She drops the gun on the table, where it smokes gently, and puts her head in her stinging hands, elbows on the bench, propping herself up so she won’t fall down, trying to get control of her breathing.

Holtz can hear Patty moving to check on Erin, talking gently to her, shifting her, probably into the recovery position. She hears Abby cross the room, can practically feel her hovering beside her but she can’t bear to look up and meet their eyes. She doesn’t know what Patty thinks, finding them like this, Erin undressed, herself unravelled, but Abby’s known about her crush for a while and Holtz doesn’t think she can stand the expression she’s imagining on Abby’s face right now. “I’m just going to get some air,” she says shakily, and makes for the door. She looks back guiltily, just for a second, at Erin’s prone body. “Don’t leave her alone, yeah?”

“We got it, Holtzy,” Patty says reassuringly. “Take your time.”

There’s a chill in the air on the roof. She sinks down to the ground once she gets out there, leaning back against the brickwork, the left over adrenaline gradually breaking down and turning sour, leaving her feeling wrung out and shaking. She rests her stinging hands on the cold concrete, tilts her head back to look at the stars and tries not to think.

It doesn’t really work. All of her flirting with Erin up to this point has been, while not exactly deniable, designed to be low threat, low pressure. She’d even wondered if the approach might not be starting to pay off, allowed herself to daydream about some distant future point at which Erin’s curiosity might tip over into actual experimentation. Tonight has not been low pressure, and right now it’s hard to connect the dots for how they’re going to get back on an even keel.

She guesses it’s been about half an hour when she hears the door opening; she’s starting to get actually cold but doesn’t feel ready to go downstairs where there are going to be people and questions and probably sympathy. She assumes it’ll be Abby who’s come to find her, so when she hears Erin’s tentative “Holtzmann?” she has to close her eyes and breathe deep for a moment. Of all the things she’s not ready to deal with yet, Erin is at the top of the list. “Holtz?” Erin calls softly again, and Holtz realises that she’s not actually very visible slumped back against the wall.

For a split second she considers just pretending not to be there, but there’s a thread of worry in Erin’s voice and Erin deserves better than that from her so she replies “Over here,” and she thinks the only thing Erin will hear in her tone is her tiredness. Erin walks over, holding her arm out awkwardly in front of her; she’s bought up the leather jacket that Holtz left draped over a chair in the lab this morning, which is kind of sweet. Holtz levers herself to her feet and takes it, turning to lean on the edge of the balcony once it’s on so that she can look out over the city. Get a grip, she tells herself sternly. All her research thus far suggests that a time machine is not an option, so they are where they are. “You OK?” she asks, and it’s probably a dumb question, all things considered.

“I’ve had better days,” Erin says, which is fair enough. “Holtz…” she tails off.

“I should have realised it quicker,” Holtz says. If they’re going to have this conversation, she’s going to get it all out in the open and then maybe it’ll be done. “I should have realised the second you, it walked in the door. I just…” but there’s no way to finish that sentence really, so she just leaves it hanging there. “Sorry about that,” she says after a moment.

“No, it’s me who should be,” Erin protests. “I’m really sorry, Holtz.”

It jolts her enough that she actually turns to look at Erin, which is when she realises that Erin’s not looking at her. She’s staring out over the skyline, bottom lip caught between her teeth. She’s put on her MIT sweater and a pair of jogging pants and she looks very lost right now. Holtzmann reaches out a hand towards her but aborts the gesture, not wanting to stress her. “You know you got nothing to be sorry for, right?” she tells Erin firmly. “It wasn’t you.”

“What it said,” Erin says softly, still facing away, into the night breeze, “it wasn’t entirely untrue.” She pauses for a long moment, long enough that Holtz isn’t sure she’s going to continue. Her forearms are leaning on the parapet and Holtz watches her clenching and un-clenching her fingers, rolling them into fists and then loose again. “I … I lost some time, this afternoon, when we got the other one. I didn’t really notice it then but I’m pretty sure. You were so pleased about the new trap working – glowing. And then we got back here and I felt restless and headachy so I went to bed and then I still felt… restless.” There’s another long pause, but Holtz doesn’t try to interrupt. Her hair is coming loose where Erin had tugged on it earlier, strands blowing in her face, and she reaches up absently to tuck them behind her ear. “So I started… thinking about you,” Erin’s voice is so low that it’s barely audible now. “And then I… I finished and that’s when she took over.”

Oh.

Right.

She can see Erin’s waiting for her to say something, waiting to be blamed probably, and she doesn’t really know what the right thing to say is so she just says the first thing that pops into her head. “So you sleep naked?” Ok, it probably wasn’t that.

Except that it does make Erin turn to look at her, brings her back from wherever her head was. “Seriously, Holtz! That’s what you took away from that?!” she says and yeah, she’s still upset, it’s been an upsetting evening, but Holtzmann can see the quirk of her lip that’s part of Erin’s normal look of fond exasperation with her and she thinks maybe they’re going to be fine.

She shrugs with one shoulder and smiles. “Hey, I like to… think about you too sometimes,” she drawls, leaving a deliberate pause in the middle to make her meaning clear. “No law against thinking.” Because maybe there’s more than just being fine on the table here. She laces her left hand into Erin’s right on the parapet next to her and turns, pulling Erin with her so they’re facing each other. She clears her throat and takes a deep breath. Maybe it’s too soon for this but maybe it’s not and if they can get through everything else that’s happened tonight and be ok then they can get through her screwing up her timing and be fine. “Can I, can I kiss you?” she asks, in a rush, and Erin doesn’t say anything but she doesn’t pull away either, which she takes as a good sign. “Because I feel like I didn’t really get to because it wasn’t really you and I’m now getting the impression that that might maybe be something you would like and I guess you didn’t really get to either and maybe we could just replace that memory with a better one.” She winds down and waits, trying to hold herself still and not put any pressure on Erin to decide one way or the other.

Erin pauses for a second and then sighs. “I don’t understand my life,” she says plaintively, “nothing goes like I expect.” Her hand tightens around Holtz’s and she takes a tiny step forward. “But that sounds like maybe a good idea.”

“Excellent,” Holtz affirms and leans in, lifting her face toward Erin. It’s completely different to earlier; tentative, gentle, slow. Real. But it still takes her breath away.